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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

7 Ways to Keep Wizard of Oz Syndrome From Killing Your Organization

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Every so often I come in contact with an organization where everyone is on pins and needles. They’re afraid of their own shadows. Everything is on an urgent deadline. The smallest mistakes or surprises are crises. Any sense of humor remaining is solely of the gallows variety.

Here’s what every one of those organizations seems to have in common—the “little people” view the senior leaders as if they’re the great and powerful Oz (and by Oz, I mean the man behind the curtain, not the doctor on TV).

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her gang were petrified by the idea of meeting the Wizard. An entire mythology had been built up around him and the carnival huckster who played the role did everything he could to reinforce the myths.

The Oz Syndrome is playing out in a lot of organizations. Knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or not, the senior leaders have created an aura around themselves in which “the littles” are scared to approach. (For more on how that happens, revisit this post from last year, “What Happens When Executives Freak Out.”)

I get to see the impact of this and it’s not pretty. If you’ve created Oz Syndrome in your organization, productivity and engagement are leaking out like the helium from a two-day-old balloon.

The good news is you can stop the leak. Here are seven simple ways to start plugging it:

1. Get out of your office
2. Walk around and see what’s actually going on
3. Talk with people like they’re human beings and not functions of production
4. Don’t jump to conclusions
5. Keep your perspective
6. Be clear about what’s urgent and what’s not
7. Stop taking yourself so damn seriously

What about you? Have you seen a case of Oz Syndrome lately? What else can senior leaders do to stop it?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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